BWW Review: AIDA THE MUSICAL at White Plains Performing Arts Center
Aida is widely considered one of the grandest of grand operas. The task of converting it to a Broadway musical was a daunting one. Book writers Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls, and David Henry Hwang took liberties with the original libretto in a manner they believed would make the plot more relatable to the general public - while that is a question of taste, what is could not be changed was the epic size of the story - Pharaohs, Kings, and Princesses implicitly carry a certain about of gravitas. And the WPPAC production delivers in a big - very big way.
The sets are gorgeous, and the production overall is spectacular! Set designers Christopher & Justin Swader have really outdone themselves and Lighting Designer Jamie Roderick has taken the broad drama and brought it into critical focus with a clever lighting design.
Aida is, at its heart, a love triangle - metaphorically represented by the pyramid structure of the stage? The Nubian princess Aida (player with great majesty by Kim Onah), is captured along with several of her hand maidens and enslaved in Egypt. From her bondage, she tries to lifts the spirits and keep hope alive among her persecuted people. The highlight of these efforts is the magnificent act one closer: "The Gods Love Nubia." The entire Nubian ensemble - including house slaves Mereb and Nehebka (Devon Hall and Blair Beasley - who are both delightful) join in a roof-raising number that had the audience enraptured: "The gods love Nubia, We have to keep believing, Though scattered and divided we are still its heart." And the singing is absolutely thrilling!
Material girl and fashionista Egyptian princess Amneris (a delightfully comic Kristin Wetherington) provides all the comic relief as she lets her vanity show (repeatedly) in a pseudo-fashion show/dance number: "My Strongest Suit," in which Amneris and her maidens go wild going thru Amneris' closet trying on outfit after outfit. The dance numbers are all wonderfully well done, but completely extraneous - a problem with the show since its opening on Broadway - if they were removed, no one would really notice.
Radames (a buff and clear-voiced Jordan Bollwerk) is the Egyptian captain who led the invasion of Ethiopia and captured Aida. Radames becomes infatuated with Aida; because of her modernity and her fierceness, but there are two problems - one: she is the enemy and two: he's already engaged to Amneris.
One of the more interesting elements of the story is that each of the three ill-fated romantic leads-Radames, Aida, and Amneris-has a father who figures impactfully in their lives and storylines. Amneris is daughter to Pharaoh (John Anthony Lopez), thus when Radames marries her, Pharaoh will have a son-in-law and heir to the throne. Aida is daughter to Amonasro, king of Nubia (Kevin Brooks), a fairly one-dimensional role, as he loves her but is immediately distraught at her affection for Radames. And finally Radames is the son of the uber-evil and scheming chief minister Zoser (Andrew Foote), who intends to ensure his son's ascent by murdering the Pharaoh (a plot weakness because Radames will be heir already by marrying Amneris.)
There are innumerable musical and visual highlights (other than the aforementioned "The Gods Love Nubia") "How I Know You," in which Aida and Mereb recognize each other as countrymen, sung tenderly by Onah and Hall; and "Elaborate Lives," the big love duet, in which Radames passionately declares his love for Aida.
Aida the musical is a big show, with an epic story and outsize characters. But director Amy Griffin manages to close in and keep the show tightly focused where it needs to be and the results are first rate.
White Plains Performing Arts Center
Performances: October 11 - 27